New Zealand – Christchurch

Christchurch was our entry and departure point for the South Island, so we spent one night on each end in the city.

First night: Sudima Hotel Christchurch Airport

We arrived near midnight and after two nights on planes were quite glad we had booked the airport hotel as all we wanted was a real bed. The Sudima Hotel was clearly used to late arrivals as we simply walked up and they already had our keys waiting for a quick check in. All told we were in our room 35 minutes after landing, including picking up our checked bag, and were asleep before 1am. The beds were quite springy but we didn’t care after two nights on plane, though we might have on a second evening. Also, the motel is rather noisy, so earplugs are recommended. They also had good local honey amenities. Check out was very efficient, which was appreciated.

Last night: Lorenzo Motor Lodge

The hotel was a small, two-level motel-style building. Our room had an inexplicable amount of windows facing the parking lot including a sliding glass door. Fine for one night, but it would have been a bit too open for a longer stay. Thankfully we have eye masks and earplugs. The room itself was rather large with a small kitchenette and seating area on one side, a comfortable bed and separate bathroom. We were provided a small milk for coffee in the morning, a nice touch.


On our last night we had ~18 hours to explore the city. Christchurch was not as pretty as expected, more industrial, which may be partially due to the rebuilding following the earthquakes several years ago. The botanical gardens were near our hotel so it was nice to take a quick walk through and generally not be in the car!

Eric with a giant ficus tree  balancing act!

dahlia  pink rose

Roses were especially beautiful in the gardens, and they also had some amazing specimen trees. Surrounding the gardens was a larger park filled with people jogging, walking dogs, and playing rugby, and given the wonderful weather that evening it was no surprise at the amount of people out and about.

We looked at dinner places within walking distance, but decided to try Burgers and Beer – an eight minute drive away. Eric ordered the pulp fiction with fries and an amber beer from Stoke, while Leandra tried the portobello and blue cheese with the dark beer. Quite good, but way too many chips! We also enjoyed their overall design.

burgersnbeer  beers

After dinner we drove to the edge of downtown to Pomeroy’s, which was noted for their selection of craft beers. Eric tried the pump cask spiced ale, hyperlocal since it was brewed out back! It was quite autumnal, perfect for the cooler weather we’d been experiencing. Leandra ordered the Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black, a dark IPA that she definitely enjoyed. As with most people there, we were sucked into the cricket semifinal between NZ and South Africa.


Since we were close to the CBD we wandered toward Cathedral Square, which was eerily quiet on Tues night. It was quite sobering to still see the ruins of the Cathedral several years after the earthquake.

Cardboard Cathedral  street art mural
Cardboard Cathedral and a beautiful mural

Then it was back to our room to pack and watch the end of the cricket match, which had a thrilling finale when NZ won on the second-to-last ball of the final over!

The next morning we crossed the street (eventually, traffic is pretty thick) for breakfast at Cafe Sismo. Eric ordered the ubiquitous eggs on toast, while Leandra ordered a beef and cheese pie with salad. Convenient and decent, but not memorable.


Overall, our impressions of Christchurch were pretty neutral. We would strongly consider flying in and out of Queenstown on a future visit as that would put us much closer to the main sites we wanted to see.

New Zealand – Clay Cliffs and return to Christchurch

On our drive from Christchurch to Wanaka we passed a sign pointing toward the Clay Cliffs near the town of Omarama. We wrote a note to ourselves to remember them as a possible stopping point on our return drive. A week later the weather was overcast but not raining, so we decided to stop and stretch our legs here, and it turned out to be a fun hike.

The cliffs are on private land, and on the way in we had to open (and close) two livestock fences.

entering the clay cliffs area
one of two fences

Through the pasture area we enjoyed some nice views of the river including the early fall color of yellow leaves and bright red wild rose hips.

river tree

Shortly after the second fence we got our first views of the cliffs, then a parking area for all but the most intrepid 4-wheel drive vehicles.

Clay Cliffs

A 10 minute walk up the hill lead us to the base of the cliffs, and from there trails that lead into the canyons. The cliffs are quite crumbly, with lots of texture and colors between the clay and stone. It was great that you can walk in them and explore.

Clay Cliffs

Clay Cliffs

Clay Cliffs

Clay Cliffs

posing @ the Clay Cliffs   posing @ the Clay Cliffs

On the way back we also stopped in Twizel which was bigger than expected and might be a good launching point for exploring around Mt. Cook on future trips with supermarkets, gas, lodgings, etc.

I asked Leandra to stop at the Mt Cook visitor’s center so I could get a few shots and she took advantage by buying herself some salmon sashimi for lunch.

YUM!   salmon sashimi

Fresh salmon with a gorgeous view…

Mt Cook

Another pit-stop on the way back, the insanely blue-green Tekapo Canal.

Tekapo Canal

We also stopped in Geraldine, this time at the The Plum Cafe for pastries. Leandra choose a port wine truffle, while I went for the nut and fruit chocolate bar (which was a little heavy on the orange zest for me). A few hours later we made it through Christchurch rush hour traffic to our hotel and our last night on the South Island.

Central Otago wineries

Our first stop in central Otago was Chard Farm, a charming tasting room on a hill above the highway. Just across the road is a old suspension bridge with bungee jumpers over the Kawarau Gorge.

bungee jumping
bungee jumping into the gorge

Chard Farms tasting room
Chard Farms tasting room

Andrew was a great host and we really enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

Our next stop was Amisfield which is mainly a bistro with an attached tasting room. Avi was our host and he was very friendly and let us try a variety of open wines. There was a large group coming in just as we were leaving so we got lucky on timing. The tasting room isn’t very big and would be crowded with more than a few groups. While we liked the Riesling the best, they were running a special with free shipping in the US for a mixed case of any combination of their 2011 Pinot Noir, 2013 Sauvignon Blanc (nice acidity, grapefruit) and 2013 Pinot Gris so we ordered a case.

matching grouchy faces @ Amisfield Winery
matching grouchy faces – no reflection on the wine!

After getting a wine region map from Avi, we decided to backtrack past Chard Farms to Mt. Rosa Winery and on the way stopped for cheese and bread (Kawarau Blue and Nevis Maasdam) at the Gibbston Valley Cheese Shop.

Due to a local wine festival that evening in Queenstown, Mt. Rosa was closed, so we drove across the street (literally) to Brennan Wines. I don’t know how good Mt. Rosa would have been, but Brennan wound up being our favorite winery on the south island! Dave was our host and we had him mostly to ourselves for the half hour tasting. Eric liked the Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris the best while I was really impressed with their unusual Tempranillo and range of Pinot Noirs. We bought a glass of the Gewurztraminer and Tempranillo to go with our cheese and bread picnic lunch with a view.

Brennan wines

our lunch spot @ Brennan Winery
Brennan Wines outdoor seating

On our second pass through the valley several days later we tried to stop at Rockburn Wines but they were closed (we found out later due to a local holiday) but Mt. Difficulty was open. Eric liked their Rieslings but I was not impressed with the Pinot Noirs. The only one I actually enjoyed was over $100/bottle so… no.  However, the setting was absolutely gorgeous with panoramic views so instead of trying another place and chancing it being closed, we decided to stay and split a bottle of Riesling on the deck.

Mt Difficulty panorama

On our way back to Wanaka we stopped by a produce stand and picked up a wonderful package of dried apricots from Jackson Orchards which we snacked on for the rest of the trip.

New Zealand – Te Anau lodging and food

After quite a lot of driving and many, many sheep, we arrived at the Te Anau Lodge around 6pm, just beating a rain storm. We stayed in the Bishop’s Retreat which was a stand alone building next to the lodge. It was comfortable and relatively quiet with a kitchenette and private bathroom.

our room and parking space

Our rate included a plentiful breakfast in what used to be the music room. On our first morning we were up early for our cruise before the main breakfast started, but they already had cold options out so we ducked in for a quick bite of toast before we left. On our second morning we were there for the full breakfast and quite enjoyed the made-to-order options as well as the conversation around the table.

breakfast in a converted chapel

Upstairs in the lodge is a library that features a daily afternoon tea with snacks and drinks, though we weren’t around to take advantage unfortunately. The views across the lawn we quite lovely though.

We asked the front desk to make reservations at Fat Duck for dinner, a well recommended restaurant in this small town, and they got us in for an 8p table.

As we arrived at the restaurant a large party was just leaving, and the staff seemed a bit more relaxed. I started by ordering the Pitch Black stout from Invercargill Brewery, then opted for the venison shank with stewed carrots, onions, berries, gravy. Thank goodness I only opted for one shank as it was huge and plenty of food. Eric tried the Smokin Bishop beer from Invercargill, which went well with the soup of the day, Thai Pumpkin Curry, larger than expected but tasty and filling. We didn’t have room for dessert, but we did snag a large chocolate chip cookie that we periodically snacked on over the next two days.

Drive to Milford Sound

Since we were starting in the afternoon due to the Doubtful Sound cruise, we needed to prioritize which sights we would visit before it became too dark to hike. Along the drive we decided our first stop would be Humboldt Falls, a large 275m tall falls. To get there we had a long drive on gravel roads, then a 15 minute hike through intensely lush forest to the viewpoint.

walk to Humboldt Falls   dripping ferns

Humboldt Falls (with rainbow)
and a rainbow too!

On the way back to the main road we made a quick stop at Marion Falls (Leandra was not a fan of the swinging bridge).

Marian Falls

Marian Falls

From here we drove to the end of the road, Milford Sound itself. There were stunning views along the road…

the view just beyond the Homer Tunnel
valley view just past the Homer Tunnel

And of course the sound itself.

Milford SoundMilford Sound
Not pictured: Flies! I had to keep moving as I shot since I didn’t want any more of those intensely itchy bites.

The harbor hosts the Blue Duck Cafe and Bar, and since it was late we figured now was the only time we were likely to get food. The Carbonara pizza was passable but Leandra’s mussels were terribly overcooked, doubly unfortunate given how close we are to the water.

As we exited the restaurant we enjoyed some great sunset color on the mountain tops.

sunlit mountain top

Unfortunately, we didn’t have much light left on the way back so we just barely get one more photo next to the Homer tunnel, Cleddau Valley Vistas Waterfalls, then continued our drive back in the dark dodging wildlife intent on running into / in front of our car.

Homer Tunnel
Cleddau Valley Vistas Waterfalls

We returned to our hotel ~15 hours after leaving, and enjoyed  a well-earned night of sleep.

New Zealand – Doubtful Sound Cruise with Real Journeys

Hoping for good weather, we booked the 8am cruise with Real Journeys online 13 hours prior to departure. It was a bit pricey but it’s the only way to see Doubtful Sound so we decided to splurge.

Thankfully there was a good early breakfast spread at our lodge because we had to be on the road to Manapouri by 7:10am to catch the boat. It was a quick 20 minute drive to the harbor where we picked up our tickets and anxiously awaited our cruise.

on the boat as the sun comes up!
more excited than sleepy!

The trip started with a 50 minute boat ride across Lake Manapouri. The heavy clouds made for a dim early morning trip across the lake but you could still see several waterfalls as it had rained the evening before.

waterfall  waterfall
waterfalls on Lake Manapouri

We sat across from an older woman named June who was traveling on her own in a camper van. Her travel companions, her husband and best friend, had both passed on in the last several years so she was taking a few months to revisit some of her favorite places on the South Island. She was very well-traveled and we had a great time chatting about some of our favorite cities and trips.

Next up was the 22km bus ride up and over Wilmot’s Pass. Our driver, Alan, was a sarcastic comedian (in a good way) and also full of great knowledge about the pass, the underground power station and the engineering feats that made this excursion possible.

the bus on Wilmot Pass road
our coach bus – very comfortable

Deep Cove
Deep Cove – the start of our three hour cruise on Doubtful Sound

Helena Falls
Helena Falls

Once the boat trip started the clouds parted and we were greeted with clear blue skies – the exact opposite of the conditions on the other side of the pass. It was really hard to put into words the beauty of our surroundings. So! I will let the photos do the talking…

Lady Alice Falls
bottom of Lady Alice Falls

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound

our wake

approaching the Tasman Sea

One of my favorite parts of the cruise was the trip deep into Crooked Arm when the captain turned off the boat motor and many of us stood in complete silence on the upper deck just listening to the birds and not taking photos.

Crooked Arm
our view of Crooked Arm during the silence

Crooked Arm

a pod of dolphins
a small pod of dolphins playing in our wake

On the way back over the pass, the bus stopped for everyone to get a shot of Doubtful Sound from the top of the pass looking out from Deep Cove.

Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass overlook

We were back in Manapouri by 3:15p, so we hopped back in the car, gassed up and continued our marathon day by driving to Milford Sound.

New Zealand – Crown Range Pass

The sunrise in Wanaka was absolutely STUNNING on Saturday morning.

sunrise in Wanaka

sunrise panorama

Eric snuck out to take these photos behind the B&B before we filled up on a delicious breakfast. After packing up we headed south toward Queenstown via the Crown Range Pass. The day was pretty cloudy but we still had good visibility from the overlooks.

Crown Range Pass
view from the Cardrona Pass Monument overlook

And, there were other sites that were a little less “natural”…

thigh gap
graffiti-style rental camper van

After this, the steep descent into Queenstown begins. Still a lot of scenic views.

more sheep!

Crown Range Pass
the view of the valley from Arrow Junction

On our return to Wanaka two days later we went through Cromwell instead, home to quite a few wineries, but we are glad we took this pass at least once on our trip.